On October 23, 2012, Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias, the religious leader of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece, met with Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State. Archimandrite Tsarknias brought to Ambassador Johnson Cook’s attention the challenges of the Macedonian Orthodox faith community in Greece and the Greek government’s long-standing policy of hampering down on faith-based communities.
“Greece is the only European Union member-state that has no separation of church and state and the only faith-based community recognized with special privileges is the Greek Orthodox Church, which is embedded within the Greek Constitution – the root of the problem in Greece,” said Archimandrite Tsarknias. “The U.S. and the European Union must call upon Greece to allow the existence of other faith-based communities with equal rights under the Greek Constitution. Greece has a duty to uphold its obligations under international law in terms of religious freedom.”
Archimandrite Tsarknias is the first clergyman of the Macedonian Orthodox Church to have such a high-level meeting with a U.S. Administration Official. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position confirmed by the United States Senate. She is the principal advisor to both the President of the United States and Secretary of State for Religious Freedom globally. She is the first African-American and the first female to hold this position.
The Office of International Religious Freedom has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The Office monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommends and implements policies in respective regions or countries, and develops programs to promote religious freedom.
Archimandrite Tsarknias is on an official visit to the United States to discuss the rise of extremism in Greece and the impact it is having on faith-based communities in the country. The United Macedonian Diaspora’s Greece representative Eugenia Natsoulidou joined him on this visit and both will travel to Ottawa later this week to bring attention of the problems the Macedonian native community in Greece is facing before Canadian officials.
Archimandrite Tsarknias entered the ranks of the Greek Orthodox Church 39-years-ago. Following several disagreements over a 20-year-period with Greek Orthodox Church authorities for his preaching the Bible in the Macedonian language, the Church defrocked him. Since then, he has been jailed, beaten by police, intimidated by the Greek secret services and till this day has not been allowed to build a fully-functioning Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece. Archimandrite Tsarknias lives with tremendous fear for his life on a daily basis, and has been subjected to over a dozen lawsuits and arrest warrants, costing him and the Macedonian native community in Greece over 50,000 euros in legal fees.